|The Boston Marathon 2005 - Women
by John Elliott
Coming into the 2005 Boston Marathon, we felt that this had to be Catherine Ndereba's race again. We're becoming tired of re-hearing her nickname "Catherine the Great," but it is appropriate, she is one of the greatest marathoners of all time. On the other hand, Elfenesh Alemu had put up an epic battle in 2004 - finishing just sixteen seconds behind - and this race showed that Alemu had some tricks up her sleeve. By the middle of the race, with a 1-1/2 minute lead for Alemu, we were scratching our heads wondering if Ndereba hadn't miscalculated. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves, so back to the story...
For the second time in the history of the Boston Marathon, the women ran their own race, starting 29 minutes before the men. Fifty-five women started the race in this early group, including, of course, all of the contenders for the title.
From the beginning, various women took over the lead. Lyubov Morgunova (Russia) ran to the front from the start and opened a gap over the rest of the field - building, by the third mile (16:38), to a ten second lead over a group of three (including Alemu) who, in turn, held a lead of twelve seconds over the main pack which contained Ndereba.
By Mile 4 (22:00), however, the story turned to a hardcharging Elfenesh Alemu (Ethiopia) and Nuta Alaru (Romania) who had caught Morgunova and were continuing to press forward away from the main pack. By the 10K mark (34:05), Alemu and Nuta held a lead of a full minute over Ndereba and six others who were keying off of Ndereba. In the middle, Morgunova was still maintaining her pace and was holding onto third place, just a dozen seconds behind the leaders. With Ndereba in the main pack were Gete Wami (Ethiopia), Zhor El Kamch (Morrocco), Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova (Russia), Shitaye Gemechu (Ethiopia), Bruna Genovese (Italy) and Svetlana Zakharova (Russia).
By mile 9 (49:29), the race was looking the same - Alemu and Alaru in the lead, Morgunova now 9 seconds behind and the main pack (Ndereba plus four others) a minute behind. The year before, in the heat, the race consisted of only three runners at this point (in 50:11): Alemu, Ndereba and Olivera Jevtic. The fact that Ndereba was running slower than her time in the heat of 2004 and that three runners were ahead of her and four others (those mentioned above minus Genovese and Sultanova-Zhdanova who was falling back) were with her had to make us wonder - is Ndereba alright? What is the strategy? At that pace, Alemu was running well within her means, but could Ndereba make up a minute deficit? She did look very comfortable...
At the halfway mark (1:12:11), it's the same race - Alemu and Olaru leading, Morgunova in the middle and Ndereba and the other four still together. But the gap that Alemu and Olaru are creating continues to expand and is now 1:20. That's a lot of real estate for Ndereba to recover.
At the fourteen mile mark, Ndereba is starting to move forward and the main pack is beginning to break apart. By the 25K mark (1:26:00), Olaru is beginning to fade and has dropped back a few seconds. Morgunova is 35 seconds behind, but Ndereba is beginning to make up ground and has closed the gap to fifty seconds. Of the main pack, only Gete Wami responded to Ndereba's move and she is running with Ndereba. Alemu looks strong, Olaru is fading, Morgunova is getting caught, this race will see whether Ndereba can catch Alemu and whether Wami can hang on...
Through mile 16 (1:28:40) and mile 17 (1:34:06), Alemu still looks strong, but we can tell that she is sensing Ndereba eyeing her from behind. Every now and then Alemu glances behind her and we know that can not be a good sign. At this point, Ndereba has moved into second place and has dropped Wami who is just about to move into third place.
30K (1:43:19) Alemu leads and Ndereba is 28 seconds behind. 19 miles (1:45:19), 20 miles (1:50:59), Ndereba has shrunk the gap to 15 seconds with the Newton Hills approaching.
At the 21 mile mark (1:56:53), Ndereba has caught Alemu and tried to immediately surge past, but Alemu looks strong. It almost looks as if Alemu had taken a break in the previous mile to conserve some energy so that she could give Ndereba a run for her money, while Ndereba has been working hard to catch up. Both look strong.
Through the 23 mile mark (2:07:40), the two women run together, but finally Ndereba makes another surge and breaks free of Alemu. Almost immediately, Alemu begins to fade, while Ndereba looks strong. The conclusion of this race can be predicted - this will be Ndereba's day.
Putting in the fastest mile of the race between mile 23 and mile 24, Ndereba opens a gap of nearly a minute, which will continue to grow. Alemu is slowing, but has room to spare to hold onto second place. Word has come back that Gete Wami has dropped out - we had thought a third place or second place finish would be assured for Wami, but this will not be her day.
Ndereba crosses the finish in 2:25:13 - a convincing win, having turned a 1:20 deficit at the halfway point into a win by 1:50. On the finishers stand, as the band plays the Kenyan National Anthem, tears come to her eyes as she realizes that she has won again - for a record fourth time. Elfenesh Alemu finishes in second place to Ndereba for the second year in a row, in a time of 2:27:03. Bruna Genovese (2:29:51) continued to pass fading runners in the final miles to finish in third place, her best performance at Boston. Svetlana Zakharova takes fourth in 2:31:34 and Madina Biktagirova (Russia) who was more than 3:30 back at the halfway mark finishes in 2:32:41. For her efforts at setting the early pace, Lyubov Morgunova finishes in sixth place in 2:33:24. The best American women finish in 12th, 13th and 14th positions: Emily Levan (2:43:14), Caroline Annis (2:43:46) and Carly Graytock (2:44:02).
After the race, Catherine Ndereba tells us that her legs just felt heavy at the beginning of the race and that at the halfway point she finally felt better and so began to move. Similarly, Elfenesh Alemu tells us that she did not necessarily have a plan to build up a great lead over Ndereba, but she was just running the pace that felt comfortable for her. Whatever the true strategy involved, this was another exciting race - a gap overcome - and a continuation of Catherine Ndereba's legacy.